Faymann plans Stiftungsrat restructuring

Social Democratic (SPÖ) Chancellor Werner Faymann considers a reform of national broadcaster ORF’s Stiftungsrat for the foreseeable future.

The Stiftungsrat is a council with 35 members which has a function similar to a supervisory board. It is widely seen as an essential tool to Austria’s parties when it comes to trying to make themselves heard in political coverage. Some of the Stiftungsrat panel members were assigned by the parliament’s parties while others have close ties to Austria’s most powerful political groups. The committee also consists of representatives of the provincial parliaments and the ORF’s works committee.

Faymann told the Kurier today (Tues) he wanted to reduce the number of Stiftungsrat members to “10 to 15”. The chancellor said the “confusing structure” of the commission should be replaced with a “supervisory board consisting of highly qualified people”. Faymann – whose party approved the election and reelection of ORF general director Alexander Wrabetz – added that SPÖ Media Secretary Josef Ostermayer will form a group of experts and representatives of the parliament factions to discuss a reform. This procedure should be finished before next year’s federal election, according to the chancellor.

Speaking to the Kurier, the chancellor also said that the future Stiftungsrat members should be interviewed in public hearings before a decision concerning their nomination. He rejected appeals to make the Stiftungsrat completely independent from the parties. Faymann said such a move would be unrealistic and unique in Europe.

The ORF board is under constant pressure due to decreasing market shares and fears of upcoming advertisement declines due to the crisis. An increasing number of private competitors and a widespread move towards TV offers on the internet are seen as key reasons for the ORF’s plummeting market shares. However, many critics deplore a worsening of the station’s programme. They think the broadcaster should reset its focus in favour of more documentaries, serious films and political discussions instead of expanding its offer of Schlager music shows and American sitcoms.

ORF 1 – which offers live sport coverage, US series and Hollywood movies – had a market share of 15.8 per cent in March 2012, 0.8 per cent more than in the same month of last year. At the same time, ORF 2 sustained a market share decrease of 2.6 per cent to 22.1 per cent. ORF’s strongest Austrian private competitor, Puls 4, managed to increase its market share by 0.4 per cent to 2.9 per cent.

Richard Grasl, the ORF’s financial director, said the plan was to cut the station’s annual costs by 60 million Euros by 2016. He promised that spending on innovative programme ideas would not be neglected nevertheless.

Another uncertain aspect which worries many of the ORF’s employees is a possible relocation to new headquarters. Wrabetz is reportedly in favour of setting up a new ORF main office at Vienna’s Media Quarter in Landstraße district. Works council officials are concerned that this measure could be used to reduce the workforce level.

Vienna’s SPÖ department encourages the ORF executive board to relocate while the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) – which forms a government coalition with Faymann’s SPÖ – is in favour of continuing to renovate the current headquarters in Vienna-Hietzing.